Well, if you weren’t excited about the Six Nations going into the opening weekend you will be now.
It was a fantastic round of fixtures that’s really set up the tournament nicely.
Without looking too far ahead Wales v England in a couple of weeks is going to be enormous, and that’s why there has been some surprise at Warren Gatland making a lot of changes this weekend for the Italy game.
For the players, the first game is always hard. You have to get up to the speed of international rugby and there’s so much going on off the pitch too. There’s lot of attention on the players, lots of media interest and that can be difficult for some.
You tend to use up a lot of nervous energy in that week leading up to the first game – it’s pretty draining.
Once you get that first game under your belt, and especially if you win, then it’s massive and it puts you in a great position for the rest of the tournament. Get a second
win under your belt and you are flying, confidence is high and you feel on top of the world.
Wales should now beat Italy, and if, as a player, you’ve played both those games then you go into the England game absolutely buzzing.
There’s obviously an argument for keeping a consistent side, but this is a real opportunity to give some fringe players a taste of competitive rugby, and that’s something Gatland will be keen to do with the World Cup around the corner – you never know when you need them.
He did it while I was playing a few years ago. He made wholesale changes and we ended up struggling for large parts and just about managed to get over the line – but it was a good learning experience for the players involved.
Wales made a typically slow start against France, but came away with a win which is the main thing, but England played incredibly well against Ireland, you have to give them credit for that.
France will look to bounce back, and they will be physical at Twickenham this weekend, but England shouldn’t have too many problems.
That will send them to Cardiff in the third round of fixtures with huge momentum. On the back of two competitive games, I see them being really game-ready, whereas Wales have had a pretty slow game against France, and lots of changes against Italy. They’re two different approaches, but can work for both sides.
France will be so disappointed in the manner of the defeat against Wales. Yoann Huget is a great player, but made a mistake, and then late on in the game they are throwing big, lopping passes in pretty poor conditions. I just don’t know what they are thinking.
The score in Dublin may have surprised some, but England’s performance deserves a huge amount of credit.
Their tempo was amazing, and they have quality through the side. The 10, 12, 13 looks very dangerous, with gas on the wings – it looks very, very good.
Henry Slade was a real standout. He’s a classy player and gave an all-round exceptional performance against Ireland. His skillset is amazing, he may not have really established himself as an international player prior to this, World class: Henry Slade was absolutely magnificent for England in Dublin. but he can kick
on now and be a big, big star heading towards the World Cup.
The way they play, England will take some stopping as the tournament goes on.
I thought Ireland lacked a bit of creativity against England. They weren’t able to control the pace or tempo of the game, and then when things were going against them, were unable to react with something different.
They now face a tough task at Murrayfield, where Scotland will always be tough to beat.
It’s difficult to tell exactly where Scotland are because Italy were so poor last week – it really was schoolboy stuff at times.
The score may have looked closer than it should have, but Italy were very disappointing.
It’s all very well for Scotland to run in tries like they did in the first hour, but now they have to push on against Ireland in a game that will be a very different proposition.
It’s going to be an interesting weekend.
Wales to beat Italy by 37 points
England to beat France by 18 points
Ireland to be Scotland by 12 points
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Henry Slade has revealed how a darts night in London acted as a team-bonding catalyst for England’s outstanding victory over Ireland last Saturday.
The squad gathered for refreshments and arrows at theme bar Flight Club on the eve of their departure for a week-long training camp in Portugal where the groundwork for an epic win in Dublin was laid.
Courtney Lawes emerged as the star of the evening after Nathan Hughes revealed “he has that long reach and just places the dart on the board”, while replacement prop Harry Williams finished bottom.
Eddie Jones sanctioned an evening requested by senior players believing that the danger of misbehaviour was outweighed by the benefit of allowing his Six Nations title challengers to connect.
“They didn’t get into trouble which was fantastic and isn’t always the case when you’ve got 30 guys going out and having a drink,” Jones said.
“They wanted to go into the camp ready to go, have some stories to tell and have some togetherness. That’s where we’re going as a team.”
Slade, who served notice of his arrival as a Test player by scoring two tries at the Aviva Stadium, appreciates the value of gathering in a social environment.
“We had a room, played some darts, had a couple of drinks and had a real good time,” Slade said.
“We do a very similar thing at Exeter at the start of pre-season and it’s a great way to get to know each other.
“You feel closer to the bloke next to you because you’ve shared experiences off the field. It’s not purely business and work – you’re playing with your mates.
“It feels like your back at school playing with your mates, who you genuinely want to do well for.
“The coaches came to us and said ‘is there anything you think would be beneficial?’ so a couple of the senior boys got together.
“We had a room. There were loads of electronic dartboards, linked up to a scoreboard. You didn’t have to actually count yourself – some people would be buggered with that.
“I never really play at all but I had a hell of a checkout – three doubles. I shocked myself.
“The bulk of us have been here for a few years now. We’ve had a real emphasis on being together on and off the field, getting together in little groups off the field and having a good time.
“We didn’t tend to do that as much before. You share experiences off the field and that brings you together on the field.”
Wasps flanker Thomas Young and Leicester wing Jonah Holmes will make their Six Nations debuts for Wales in Saturday’s clash with Italy.
Young, who won two caps on Wales’ 2017 summer tour against Tonga and Samoa, lines up in Rome alongside back-row colleagues Aaron Wainwright and Josh Navidi.
Centre Jonathan Davies captains his country for a first time – regular skipper Alun Wyn Jones is on the replacements’ bench – as Wales head coach Warren Gatland makes 10 changes and one positional switch from the side that beat France last week.
There is also a Six Nations bow for Holmes, who made his Test debut during this season’s autumn series, with scrum-half Aled Davies and flanker Wainwright handed first starts in the tournament.
Centre Owen Watkin, fly-half Dan Biggar, who replaces Gareth Anscombe, hooker Elliot Dee and lock Jake Ball also feature, with Navidi moving from blindside flanker to number eight.
Players that started the 24-19 victory over France who are not involved in Wales’ match-day 23 this weekend include wing George North, centre Hadleigh Parkes and hooker Ken Owens as Gatland maximises a 31-man squad who have trained in Nice this week.
TEAM NEWS 🏴 @JonFoxDavies will lead Wales for the first time against @Federugby this Saturday. #ITAvWAL— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) February 7, 2019
🔴 Capteiniaeth am y tro gyntaf i'r gŵr o'r gorllewin ar gap rhif 70 am y gêm @SixNationsRugby.#HWFN #ForTheJersey pic.twitter.com/h3aa0Qyb2A
Young is the son of Wasps rugby director and former Wales prop Dai Young, and he has been among the Gallagher Premiership’s most consistent performers this season.
He now has a glorious chance to show his Test credentials at the start of a World Cup year.
Victory for Wales at the Stadio Olimpico would make it 11 successive wins and equal their all-time unbeaten record set between 1907 and 1910.
They have also not lost to Italy for 12 years, while the Azzurri are without a win against any Six Nations team since 2015.
Gatland said: “We have made a number of changes this weekend, but have picked what we think is a very exciting team that still has huge experience throughout it.
“We have made a similar number of changes to what we did last year, but it is all about opportunity for these players. We have had a squad of 31 training together, replicating the Rugby World Cup, and it is important they get game time.
“It is a great opportunity for Jon (Davies) as captain. He has a huge amount of experience, is a great leader and it is a great honour for him to lead his country.
“Italy will be hurting after last weekend (they lost to Scotland), but they are a different proposition in Rome.
“They are an experienced team themselves and they will be looking to put things right on the pitch after their opening defeat.”
Wales team to play Italy in Rome on Saturday: Liam Williams (Saracens); Jonah Holmes (Leicester), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets, capt), Owen Watkin (Ospreys), Josh Adams (Worcester); Dan Biggar (Northampton), Aled Davies (Ospreys); Nicky Smith (Ospreys), Elliot Dee (Dragons), Samson Lee (Scarlets), Jake Ball (Scarlets), Adam Beard (Ospreys), Aaron Wainwright (Dragons), Thomas Young (Wasps), Josh Navidi (Cardiff Blues).
Replacements: Ryan Elias (Scarlets), Wyn Jones (Scarlets), Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Blues), Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Ross Moriarty (Dragons), Gareth Davies (Scarlets), Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues), Hallam Amos (Dragons).